Steve Kline

January 21, 2021

TRCP’s Top Five Conservation Priorities for the 117th Congress

How lawmakers can make history for conservation in 2021 and 2022

The 116th Congress was truly historic in its conservation achievements, with passage of the John Dingell Conservation Act, the Great American Outdoors Act, and the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act. It ended with a bang, as well, with a strong Water Resources Development Act that included natural infrastructure policies for which TRCP had long advocated.

But, as more Americans have turned to the outdoors and our fish and wildlife resources, there is more for the 117th Congress to get done. As we saw throughout 2019 and 2020, nothing sparks bipartisanship quite like conservation, and TRCP looks forward to working with our Democratic and Republican allies to assemble the next coalitions for conservation policy success.

Here is our shortlist for the habitat, access, and funding priorities they should take up first.

Photo by Lisa Hupp/USFWS Alaska Region
Create Conservation Jobs

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a keystone of the New Deal response to the Great Depression, and it put significant numbers of unemployed Americans back to work building a legacy of trails, parkways, lodges, and tree-plantings that are still plainly visible across the country. Seventy years later, in response to the Great Recession of 2008, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), funding all manner of infrastructure and natural resource restoration projects meant to get people back to work.

As we stand at another economic threshold, with 10 million Americans still out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress should once again craft economic recovery legislation that invests in conservation programs with a track record of creating jobs and restoring our natural resources.

Visit our Conservation Works for America webpage to learn more about how investments in conservation can create jobs, rebuild our economy, and improve the health of our communities.

Invest in Climate Change Solutions

In the last decade or more, it has become clear that American hunters and anglers are among the first to witness the impacts of a changing climate. Altered migrations, delayed rut seasons, and invasive species are just a few of the challenges sportsmen and women face as we plan time afield.

Now, leaders in Washington seem poised to act on climate, and with such a unique stake in the outcome, hunters and anglers must be at the table.

While there will certainly be much talk about pricing carbon, electric vehicles, and grid modernization, truly comprehensive climate legislation must include dramatically expanded roles for our nation’s water- and land-based systems that, conservative estimates indicate, could sequester at least 20 percent of our carbon targets. This means investing in grassland conservation, coastal and wetland restoration initiatives, and active forest health projects—exactly the kind of climate projects that benefit rural America and enhance the adaptability of our fish and wildlife resources.

Modernize Public Land Data

Increasingly, hunters, anglers, and all forms of outdoor enthusiasts seek to plan their adventures using the latest in mobile technology. This revolution in how people interface with their public lands has highlighted how little data about those lands is available in a technologically relevant format. To this day, knowing where one can go and what one can do there sometimes requires paper maps and an awareness of arcane and ever-changing agency policies.

Seeking to address these challenges, in 2020 the TRCP worked with a diverse bipartisan mix of House and Senate legislators to introduce the Modernizing Access to our Public Lands (MAPLand) Act.

The bill, supported by a wide swath of hunting and fishing organizations, would provide the funding necessary over several years for our national land management agencies to digitize paper maps, access data, and recreational use regulations for modern-day public land use. We’d like to see the bill reintroduced and ultimately passed this Congress.

Photo by Lisa Hupp/USFWS Alaska Region
Fund Frontline Fish and Wildlife Management

With less time spent commuting and fewer things competing for our limited time, folks have found more chances to head afield during the pandemic. Some states have indicated that hunting and fishing license sales have soared, and outdoor businesses have seen strong demand. But this uptick in outdoor enthusiasm means more pressure on access points and outdoor recreation infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the state wildlife agencies haven’t been able to keep up. Across the nation, state fish and wildlife agencies have seen furloughs, layoffs, hiring freezes, and a reduction in volunteer participation, all while usage of natural resources has been increasing, creating a tremendous capacity issue for our frontline fish and wildlife professionals. What’s more, we now enter into that time of year when state governors and legislatures will be considering state budgets, and fish and wildlife agencies may well be on the proverbial chopping block.

Congress should prioritize swift passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act as part of their comprehensive COVID response and get needed support to state and local governments. Many aspects of state governments have been stressed by this pandemic, and state fish and wildlife agencies are no exception. They shouldn’t be ignored as they perform an ever more essential role in keeping the American public safely enjoying our outdoors.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act creates a badly needed permanent and dedicated funding source for every state’s fish and wildlife agency. This has never been more relevant.

Photo by Dean Ricciardi on Unsplash
Safeguard the Future of Deer Hunting

And while COVID-19 has had catastrophic effects on our nation and the world over the course of the last year, a wildlife disease crisis has continued to spread throughout the country. Chronic wasting disease, a 100-percent fatal disease that affects all species of North American deer, was recently identified in Ohio’s wild whitetail population and the wild elk population of Grand Teton National Park.

More than half the states in the country are now dealing with a disease which, if left unchecked, threatens the very future of wild deer, deer hunting, and our model of conservation funding—and all of this while perhaps more people than ever before seek to add venison to the family meal plan.

It is time indeed for Congress to act on comprehensive chronic wasting disease legislation, which would fund strong state response plans including better testing and surveillance, funding for better research, and improved management of the movement of live deer. There is arguably no more important issue facing wildlife conservation, and the issue deserves the attention of congressional leaders and the Biden Administration.

Photo by USDA.
The 117th Congress and Beyond

No matter how much of great import we got done in the last Congress, there is much more to do, including far more than we can include in this list. The role that conservation and natural resources play in our national economy, our health, and our quality of life have never been more clear. All of us at the TRCP look forward to getting to work on our agenda for the 117th Congress and the future of America’s hunters and anglers and fish and wildlife.

 

Top photo by Glenna Haug on Unsplash

10 Responses to “TRCP’s Top Five Conservation Priorities for the 117th Congress”

  1. How about sharing all the things that have passed and sharing the details of each piece of legislation.

    We need to understand what each piece of legislation provides so we can share our legacy more effectively.

    Hunters have a huge impact on conservation and we should be able to articulate this mountain of habitat preservation.

    By being able to do this we protect our hunting heritage and our second amendment rights.

  2. Diana Stransky

    The conservation goals mentioned are lofty and necessary, but the trifecta of environmental needs are to forever stop the drilling in Alaskas National Wildlife Refuge, Stop any encroachment on Pebble Bay and last but far from least, no logging in the self contained environment of the Tongass National Forest. These three proposals will forever detrimentally rape three iconic and necessary landscapes if we are to halt global warming. Now is the time to act responsibly and with wisdom, foresight and heart.

  3. I personally think we need to leave every tree and blade of grass for our children and wildlife . Our world is getting smaller every day and the important things in life are disappearing at an alarming rate. Please,do whatever you you have to to protect our natural resources.

  4. Corey Harmon

    I as a hunter an fisher love to do both an will do what it take to help assure that this is something we are all able to do for as long as we can, it’s an American Heritage an I truly love it. I would also like to know more about become an employee an working in the fields I love most.

  5. Difficult. The challenge of extracting resources from the land and still allow time for regeneration, this age old problem sill plagues us. At least worrying about it is a good first step!

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January 11, 2021

MeatEater Podcast ft. TRCP: The State of Conservation Moving Into 2021

Listen now for our CEO’s take on the wins and losses for habitat and access last year

Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP, joined Steven Rinella, Clay Newcomb, Brody Henderson, and Janis Putelis on the MeatEater Podcast in late December to discuss the state of conservation leading into 2021. If, as the podcast’s title suggests, we gave 2020 a sideways thumb, the TRCP is making every effort to give conservation a thumbs up this year. Take a listen and arm yourself with the knowledge to continue our conservation fight!

Marnee Banks

December 28, 2020

Major Spending and COVID-Relief Package Contains Investments in Conservation

Year-end bill includes wide ranging provisions for fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation access

A sweeping legislative package to keep the government running and invest in COVID relief has become law. Tucked throughout the bill are numerous conservation provisions that invest in climate solutions, sustainably manage water resources, restore habitat, combat chronic wasting disease, and strengthen access for hunters and anglers.

“In a year that has been incredibly difficult for families and communities across America, conservation provides a place where we can find glimmers of hope and common ground,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This sweeping legislation addresses many issues that are top of mind for hunters and anglers, including investments in habitat and access. We can close out this year knowing we accomplished a lot for conservation and turn our eyes toward 2021 and the goals of investing in climate solutions and putting Americans back to work through conservation.”

The more than 5,500-page bill contains the following provisions:

  • Invests $900 million in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, of this $67.5 million must be used to expand recreational access to public land.
  • Infuses $1.9 billion into our nation’s public lands, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and national parks, critical new resources for addressing deferred maintenance projects.
  • Increases communities’ ability to use nature-based solutions to meet their flood control needs.
  • $7 million for states to manage chronic wasting disease.
  • $2 million for chronic wasting disease work at the National Wildlife Research Center.
  • $3.72 million to fund collaborative chronic wasting disease studies, including research to identify early detection tools and carcass disposal.
  • Invests in the restoration of the Everglades, the Great Lakes, and the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Allows conservation organizations to access WaterSMART grants, including for nature-based water solutions.
  • Updates the Army Corps’ Floodplain Management Service program so that it can improve its ability to provide technical assistance that communities desperately need while also prioritizing assistance for economically disadvantaged communities and communities subject to repetitive flooding.
  • Ensures consistency in cost-sharing requirements for natural infrastructure projects.
  • Directs the Army Corps of Engineers to update guidance on sea level rise and inland flooding.
  • Expands the Cooperative Watershed Management Program that allows communities to develop joint solutions to their water challenges.
  • Establishes a new program to fund fish passage.
  • Recognizes tribal water rights and funds projects that will provide access to clean, safe drinking water and other critical water supplies.
  • Urges Natural Resources Conservation Service when converting wetlands to ensure that one acre of impact equals one acre of conserved land elsewhere.
  • Requires Natural Resources Conservation Service to prioritize implementation of Drought Contingency Plans for Colorado River Basin.
  • Directs Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop Environmental Quality Incentives Program guidance for local feedback on irrigation district-led projects.
  • Strongly encourages the Farm Services Agency to prioritize State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program.
  • Prohibits new oil and gas leases within ten miles of the Chaco Cultural National Historic Park in New Mexico for the next year.

Additionally, the legislation conveys approximately 93 acres in North Dakota to construct the Roosevelt Presidential Library.

 

Top photo by Gregg Flores @wheretheriverruns

Randall Williams

December 22, 2020

U.S. Senate Sends DESCEND Act to President Trump’s Desk

Saltwater anglers applaud lawmakers for promoting better catch-and-release of red snapper

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 5126, Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices Act of 2020 (DESCEND Act). The bipartisan bill requires recreational and commercial fishing boats to have on board a venting tool or descending device that is rigged and ready for use while fishing for reef fish in Gulf of Mexico federal waters.

Sportsmen and women strongly supported the DESCEND Act, which was coauthored in the Senate by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.). The bill passed the House on October 1, and was led by Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

“The TRCP thanks the bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives and staffers who worked to pass this important bill. The DESCEND Act affirms that recreational anglers and the groups that support them are truly leading the way in conservation of our marine resources,” said Chris Macaluso, director of marine fisheries for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This bill will work with other important reforms passed in the Modern Fish Act two years ago and other measures to ensure the reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico are well-managed and that conservation is given the highest priority.”

Reef fish, like snapper and grouper, caught from depths of 50 feet or more are vulnerable to barotrauma, a phenomenon which causes the swim bladder and eye sockets to expand after a rapid rise to the surface. When this happens, the fish’s stomach can protrude from its mouth and acts as a balloon, making the fish float. The result is a high mortality rate for fish that are released.

Unless that pressure is relieved, the fish cannot return to the reef. Anglers can prevent this by using a venting tool to puncture the air bladder or a descending device—a weighted hook, lip clamp, or box that will hold the fish while it is lowered to a sufficient depth to recover from the effects of barotrauma. This device can be anything as simple as a weighted milk crate on a rope to something more sophisticated, like the SeaQualizer, which has pressure-release clips that allow fish to swim away upon reaching the desired depth.

“We thank Senators Bill Cassidy, Doug Jones and John Cornyn for their leadership and commitment to passing the DESCEND Act before the end of this Congress,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “Congressman Garret Graves got the ball rolling in the House, and these Senators got it across the finish line in the nick of time. What a great Christmas present to America’s anglers!”

There are 2.6 million saltwater anglers who fish the Gulf of Mexico every year and contribute $13.5 billion to the economy while supporting 138,817 jobs. These anglers and the businesses they support understand the value of healthy marine resources and are committed to doing their part in conservation.

“Senate passage of the DESCEND Act caps off a remarkably productive Congress for the recreational fishing community,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “We are grateful to have champions in Congress that are willing to put in the time and energy to support fisheries conservation. The DESCEND Act will improve fishing opportunities and support Gulf of Mexico reef fish conservation for many years to come.”

“Anglers have long recognized their responsibility to practice successful catch-and-release to ensure our fisheries are healthy and sustainable for future generations,” said Pat Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “Descending devices are an available, effective tool for properly conserving our marine resources and we look forward to the positive impacts of this legislation on recreational fisheries going forward.”

“With the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval of the DESCEND Act, the 116th Congress has proved once again that critical conservation measures like expanding the use of descending devices enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support in an era of political gridlock,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of prized reef fish like snapper and grouper has and always will be a top priority of the recreational boating and fishing community and we applaud Congress for approving this commonsense policy.”

“Using descending devices is the right thing to do to ensure the health and abundance of our reef fish fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Chris Horton, fisheries policy director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “We thank Senator Cassidy and Senator Jones for shepherding this angler-supported bill through the Senate and once again demonstrating that recreational anglers are leaders and champions for the conservation of our fisheries resources.”

 

Photo: Florida Sea Grant via Flickr

Kristyn Brady

December 18, 2020

15 Conservation Stories That Defined 2020

Between all the mask-wearing, social distancing, and vote counting that Americans did this year, these events made a major impact on our fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation opportunities

It’s certain that 2020 will be a memorable year for many reasons—the good and the bad. So, in that spirit, here are the conservation highs and lows that we’ll remember when we think back on 2020. Read on for 15 headline-making events, the role that sportsmen and women played in clinching victories or defending against bad ideas, and the consequences for the fish and wildlife habitat that we all rely on.

Photo by Tim Romano.
The One Most Likely to Make the Nightly News

After years of vocal opposition from anglers and outfitters, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently denied developers a permit for Pebble Mine—thus defending the salmon habitat and unmatched outdoor recreation opportunities of Bristol Bay, Alaska. The Corps said in a statement that the proposed mine project “is contrary to the public interest” and “does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines.”

The Decade-Defining Legislative Wins

Of course, you have already heard a lot about the Great American Outdoors Act, the milestone achievement to top a very productive summer for finding common ground on conservation. Its lasting legacy will be permanent and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually, but hunters and anglers will benefit enormously from its five-year investment of $9.5 billion to chip away at the deferred maintenance backlog on public lands.

Though it didn’t get as much of the limelight, the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act deserves to be right up there with this victory. The ACE Act does for habitat what the Great American Outdoors Act does for access and outdoor recreation opportunity—by securing and reinvigorating conservation programs and funding sources that benefit deer, waterfowl, fish, and all species in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.

Photo by Nicolas Jossi.
The Damaging Blows to Conservation

On the flip side, major rollbacks were finalized that threaten to dismantle our bedrock conservation laws. This list includes the weakening of Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands, a concerning change to what the National Environmental Policy Act requires of federal agencies considering development impacts on fish and wildlife habitat, and the elimination of conservation safeguards on 9.2 million acres of public land in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Photo by 24.7 Hunt.
The Public Lands That Are Locked Away from the Public

In three groundbreaking reports this year, the TRCP unveiled data on half a million acres of inaccessible public lands across nine states. This was in addition to the 15.8 million acres of landlocked public land in the West that we previously identified through our ongoing partnership with the digital mapping experts at onX. Learn more about the landlocked public lands issue here.

Photo by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The Ten-Year Milestone for Coastal Habitat

The spring and summer of 2020 marked a decade since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and subsequent oil spill—the worst environmental disaster in American history. But, today, oil spill penalties have been invested in projects that not only address the direct damage from the tragedy but are reversing the long-term decline of the Gulf region’s coastal ecosystems and water quality. In June, we released a comprehensive report on where things stand ten years after the spill.

Photo by USDA NRCS Montana.
The Farm Bill Favorite That Hit a Low Point

There were also changes made to the management of the Conservation Reserve Program that weakened one of the Farm Bill’s most popular conservation programs. Our community outlined what the Biden Administration should do to get enrollment back on track and max out conservation benefits on private land. And we voiced our support for making the program even stronger.

Photo courtesy of NYS DEC via flickr.
The Federal Agency That Learned It Can’t Ignore Hunters

One division of the USDA showed it was a little too cozy with the captive deer industry by funneling at least $1.5 million of the $5 million in chronic wasting disease response funding that Congress specifically appropriated for delivery to state wildlife and agricultural departments. This threatened to undo what should have been a solid win—a renewed commitment of federal funds—and doesn’t address the continued strain placed on state agencies. Hunters responded by demanding transparency from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and oversight from lawmakers.

Recreational fishing on Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Alicia Pimental/Chesapeake Bay Program.
The Important Little Fish That Got a Management Makeover

In August, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously to improve its management strategy for Atlantic menhaden—the tiny baitfish that supports some of our most popular sportfish, like striped bass—by considering the species’ role in the broader ecosystem. Though the Commission could have made stronger cuts to menhaden harvest numbers when its Atlantic Menhaden Board met again in October, anglers strongly supported the first steps toward implementing a new ecological management system that benefits sportfish and water quality.

The Under-the-Radar Wins

Thanks to sportsmen and women, there were other victories for conservation embedded in the work that Congress and the administration is expected to do anyway.

First, the Natural Resource Conservation Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would invest nearly $49 million in projects to enhance public access for outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, on private land across 26 states. To learn more, download TRCP’s definitive report on how these investments, made possible by the farm bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, benefit you and your access.

Then the Water Resources Development Act—a two-year bill that authorizes water conservation and enhancement projects—passed the House with provisions to help address dangerous algal blooms, combat invasive species, fund Everglades restoration, and smooth the way for more natural infrastructure projects across the country. Complementary language could pass in a Senate spending package any day now.

And constructive, collaborative public land planning efforts continued for millions of acres of Bureau of Land Management public lands in Alaska and Montana.

Photo by Tim Donovan/FWC.

 

The Developing Story

The data is still coming in on 2020 hunting and fishing license purchases, but it’s safe to say that stay-at-home orders, work-from-home flexibility, and social distancing drove more Americans to recreate in and appreciate the outdoors this year. This has positive ramifications for not only conservation funding but also for advocacy—the more connected people feel to our natural resources, the more likely they are to stand up and fight for them.

We hope that when they do, they’ll find that the TRCP is a resource and conduit to some of the best policy solutions. If you appreciate the work we’ve done for conservation, habitat, and access in 2020, consider donating to support our efforts in 2021 and beyond. There’s no better time to give than right now: Through the end of the year, our friends at SITKA Gear will match your gift, making double the impact for conservation.

Thank you for your support, happy holidays, and we hope you have excellent hunting and fishing in the new year!

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CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure.  Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create jobs, restore habitat, and preserve fish and wildlife.

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